India plans to build 15, 600 kilometers of expressways by 2022 at a cost of more than $100 billion, and the concrete industry needs to be prepared for increasing demand, says the country’s transport minister. Starting in April, India’s daily average construction rate of 9 km of roads may increase to 20 km, says Road Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath.

Mumbai-Pune Expressway is one of few India roads with some concrete paving
Mumbai-Pune Expressway is one of few India roads with some concrete paving

Nath spoke at the National Seminar on Concrete Highway Projects, held in New Delhi last month, at which sponsors emphasized sustainability and quality. According to Sumit Banerjee, Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry, barely 40% of the country’s total road length is paved and much of it is of questionable quality. Only a paltry 2% of total roads in the country are made of concrete; the rest are composed largely of bitumen-based products such as asphalt, he says.

However, advocates are building a case for concrete roads. The issue is likely to be discussed soon by all ministers of state transport.

“There is a need to have at least 20,000 km of work in progress to be able to attain 20 km of roadbuilding capacity per day, or 7,000 km of roads a year, which translates to approximately $50 billion of investments every year,” says Nath.

Land acquisition likely is to be one of the initial hurdles, he notes. It may also require forming a special Expressway Act.

Brahm Dutt, Road Transport and Highways secretary, cautions that manufacturers have not been honoring price and quality commitments on projects, citing an example from the now-completed Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The industry must look at a long-term relationship with the road sector, he told attendees. “Supervision is paramount,” he says. Lack of expert supervision on a bitumen road does not cause as much damage as on a badly laid concrete road, he notes.

While India is using modern, slipform paving practices, it still needs to catch up on consistent training, adds Shiraz Tayabji, senior consultant with Fugro Consultants.